Tag Archives: cabriole

Knee Surgery or Not

106If you build Queen Anne or Chippendale furniture, you most likely have made cabriole legs. If you’ve cut and finished cabriole legs, you most likely have work on knee blocks. Or have you? Over the years, I have run into three methods used to address knee blocks.There are knee blocks that fit in front of aprons, those that fit under aprons and there are cabriole legs that do not use blocks at all.

One habit I got into as I work on these curvy legs is to keep my cutoffs. The material you cut away from legs as you sculpt them from blanks perfectly matches the legs; the grain is right and the color is right. 110That’s the best material to use for your knee blocks.

In the opening photo you can see the first step in knee block fabrication. There are a few things to remember as you work on blocks. In the Massachusetts High Chest of Drawers DVD (the piece shown in the first two photos), the apron is behind the block. (You don’t, however, attach the blocks to the apron; they still attach to the legs.) As you make these leg add-ons, it’s important to match the grain. That can be difficult.

As you profile the knee blocks, each time you complete a step, the grain changes. When you make the cut to the pencil line in the photo, the grain moves. As you round the piece in the second step of the process, grain moves again. Dressing TableYou need to be able to read the grain as it appears in the finished blocks if you want to achieve the perfect appearance when you’ve completed the work. As you also see in the above photo, color matches are important – I didn’t do so good on that task.

Some blocks fit under the apron, as seen to the left in the cover project from the June 2010 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine (#183). The importance of grain matching in this instance is the same. Even though the block fits under the apron, it still attaches to the leg and the grain should match. If the look and fit are correct, the connection appears seamless. That’s what you’re after.

This week I began building the Connecticut lowboy – and as always with me, I began with the legs. CT LowboyAnd I saved the cutoffs. As I got into the legs a bit farther, I realized that I didn’t need the extra material because these legs did not have knee blocks. What the maker did was round the material from the front of the knee to the inside edges. If you look at the legs straight on, you almost see a half circle as you view from the right side of the upper leg to the left side. It’s interesting when you first see it.

As you work the material to round the knee area, you also need to roll the material back toward the leg post. As I completed the shaping of the second leg, I realized that a #3, 20 carving gouge used inverted did a nice job rounding and rolling. (I used only my chisels sculpting the first leg.)

What struck me the hardest was that I was in the shop for about eight hours – probably worked for maybe five hours with all the talk and lunch – and two shaped legs was all that resulted. I could easily get all four legs complete a decade ago. I was reminded that my earlier shop was air-conditioned and working in the heat was most likely the cause for my lack of completion. Yeah. I’ll go with that. In my mind, though, I know it’s simply age.

Build Something Great!

Glen

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Filed under Back to Basics, Methods of Work

The Best Legs

Southern_Table_w_pencil_drIt’s taking longer for me to complete a project than it use to. Before, I would run through a project cycle in a couple of weeks. Today, with my other job nicking my shop time, I’m lucky to complete a project in a couple of months. Spending too long on a piece makes me slower and tends to drag down my interest, so I decided to begin a second project. While the time to completion on one project pushes farther out, I’m able to maintain interest and enthusiasm by switching between the two ongoing projects.

The second project I began this week is the above pictured writing table found at Colonial Williamsburg – my first exposure to it was in the book “Southern Furniture 1680 – 1830” (Harry N. Abrams, Inc.). I’m not sure why I’m so captured by southern furniture. I expect it’s due to the simplicity of the designs.

Grain Choices

This project build begins with the legs. As I pulled lumber off the rack, I thought about what makes legs look the best. My first thought is that it depends on the wood. I’m building this table with mahogany, and its feathered grain does not show a strong difference between flat-cut and quartersawn woods, especially in pieces that are 1 9/16″ wide. On the other hand, maple does show a strong difference when comparing the two cut types. So what do you look for? The photo above shows the three ways most lumber is cut, and how each would appear in a leg found on this table. When you see this, I hope it’s obvious which cut is better choice. It’s rift cut. In rift-cut lumber, all four faces of the legs closely match in grain appearance.

WrongCab - WrongIf you build using rift-cut stock, tapered legs look best, whether you’re cutting a two-sided taper or are tapering all four sides. An even bigger difference is found if this same philosophy is applied to cabriole legs, but you also need to align your grain in the right orientation with legs found on Queen Anne and Chippendale furniture. Here’s what I mean. If you align your cabriole leg so the foot is across the grain, as shown above and to the left, you get rings or circles at the knee of your leg. These circles are not appealing, but the issue is more than aesthetics. That circle pattern indicates a weakness as you slide down to just above the ankle. That’s where your leg can break as the grain crosses the narrow cut of the leg.

RightCab - RightIf you orient the foot so it’s with the grain, as shown to the left, you get a much stronger and more pleasing end result. Notice there is no ring at the knee. The grain runs pretty much up and down the entire leg. That means there is no weak point at or above the ankle. This leg should not fracture during its life because the weight is carried through the leg as it follows the grain.

These are simplistic examples, but it should be clear that you need to watch the grain direction of your legs. If possible choose rift-cut lumber, and if you’re working up a set of cabrioles, make sure to point your toe with the grain. I know that it’s not always easy to follow these guidelines. If you find that you have a couple of legs cut using the best grain and a couple that aren’t, use the better legs at the front of your project. Ever hear the saying, “Put your best foot forward?”

Build Something Great!

Glen

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Filed under Back to Basics, Design, Shop Tips